Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The End of the Beginning

I've been finding it difficult to write a concluding post to our trip around the world. Conclusions are tricky. Though I felt that "Poor Career Moves" was a solid entry, I still need a true ending. Which brings me back to here.

Erik and I returned from England the first week of November. Staying in Leeds with our friend Tara was a good change of pace...and easier on our already barren wallets (actually, my wallet was lost in a river in Laos, so lets just say barren debit card).
We flew from London to Newark, NJ (aka Americas punch-line) and stayed a few days with our friends Nick and Sarah in Brooklyn. Hopefully, my near future will find me living in Brooklyn, so this stop was a good provocation to find a job.

After 14 weeks of traveling we caught our last flight from La Guardia to Charlotte. We made it home. We successfully adventured around the globe (distant cheers across the stadium).

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Throughout our trip Erik and I often talked about what we missed most back home.
As with many items, I kept a running list of "Things America Does Best." These are the things that either can only be found in (North) America, or that America has just figured out the best way to do....most of these are food related...ie free drink refills. Now I don't have the time to write about every thing I came up with (nor do you have the time to read such a post) but continually, one name kept popping up on the list so I feel an obligation to mention it:

Taco Bell.

If fast food was a religion, Mecca would be a Taco Bell. Between the baja chalupa combo, the grilled stuffed burrito, and the colossal grande meal (with 10 tacos), Taco Bell is in a league of its own.
As many of you know, or maybe don't know, Mexican food is rare outside of the Americas (North and South). Europeans eat Chinese and Indian food like we eat Mexican food, which is to say, a lot. In Asia English food is their Mexican food...which also is why no one eats anything other than Asian food in Asia. In India, well, they generally just stick to Indian food as well.
The point I'm trying to make is Erik and I went without a single taco for 14 weeks...and from the standpoint that we probably ate Mexican food on average 3 nights a week prior to our trip, thats a long time to go without anything containing salsa.

Now you may be wondering, "I get the mexican food thing, but why Taco Bell?" And my answer is two-fold:
A.) Because I like how it tastes.
B.) Confidence. Taco Bell is not trying to be real Mexican food. They're not dressing up their tacos to be passed off as authentic, there's no Dijorno's syndrome. No, they are confident to be cheap and simple. If I want pico de gallo stuffed tamales covered in rice I'll go elsewhere. However, when I need sixteen poorly wrapped soft taco supremes (which really just means 'with tomatoes') and a packet of sauce so honestly hot it can only be labeled 'hot,' I know what bell to ring.

As expected, within the first 48 hours of being home I made a (3) trek(s) to the local Taco Bell...and it was everything I hoped it could be.

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Creating a concluding statement on our trip has proved tough. Many people ask questions like, "what was your favorite place you visited?" or "how was the trip?" And I never know how to respond. The trip was unforgettable. I loved something about every place we visited. But within the 14 weeks I have already forgotten things that happened, and in every place we visited there were certain moments that were far from enjoyable.
But I think that's what made this such an interesting experience for me. I let myself go. This trip was an adventure, so I experienced the bad as well as the good. I never expected anything to change me and I think by not expecting and just allowing things to happen, I was ultimately changed. But now I'm focusing on the future. It's time to start the next journey and see where it takes me.
So in conclusion I'm hoping that this won't be my story of a lifetime, just one chapter.

Thanks so much to everyone who followed us through our journaling.
The comments were fun to hear and exciting to know people were reading.
Take care.
-Nick

Monday, November 3, 2008

Poor Career Moves

I’ve noticed a trend in the last 97 days. People are naturally weird. I would like to think that we each have a peculiar uniqueness, a fingerprint characteristic if you will. However, I’ve realized that there are the chosen few who truly try to bend the boundaries of social normality. The Jackson Pollock’s to our Thomas Kinkaid’s. I would like to dedicate this following list to my top three personal favorites we’ve encountered on this trip.

1. Bush Man: San Francisco-
Here’s a guy who spends his afternoons hiding in front of a trash bin holding two branches of foliage over his face…imitating a bush. Then, as an unsuspecting pedestrian crosses the sidewalk, bush man jumps up with the fury of Mother Nature scaring the poor little nine year old girl on her way to see the sea lions at Fisherman’s Warf.

2. Elephant Man: Bangkok-
On our first night in Thailand, Erik and I took a walk through the streets of Bangkok. Two blocks past our hostel we noticed something in the corner of our eye. A real elephant…standing in the alley. This was the first elephant we encountered on our trip; needless to say we were awestruck.

Now you may say, “but Nick, you’re in Thailand, what did you expect…polar bears?” And my response is, “Relax, I’m getting to my point.”
Bangkok is the Manhattan of South East Asia, the central hub. Now imagine seeing an elephant rolling down Wall Street. Pretty strange (although, unlike NY, the elephant wasn’t followed by a PETA protest).

Now, this elephant wasn’t alone. He was accompanied by his banana sandwich toting friend…let’s call him Steve. Steve’s pastime is walking his pet elephant through Bangkok convincing people how much fun it would be to buy his banana sandwiches and feed it to his elephant. I mean who can say no to an elephant? Genius.

3. The 40 Year Old Subway Rapper: Paris-
After spending the first hours of the morning (the ones usually reserved for deep sleeping) snaking through the endless labyrinth that is the Paris Metro system, I finally arrived on the last train home. As soon as I leaned back against my sterile, pleather seat, I noticed an older gentleman wheeling a speaker through the door in front of me. Before I realized what was happening the doors shut. I was too late.

Old Man: “LE LE LE LE LE (crazy French yelling)”
Suddenly, the speakers lit up. Our car was bumping whether we liked it or not. This man, who looked like a guy that sold insurance and drove a Prius, was now introducing me to the new wave of French Hip-Hop, subway style.

(Un)Fortunately, my metro stop was far enough to experience the ill styles of ‘Le Petite Technique’ through the entirety of two original songs (actually, I’m pretty sure his second tune was just him rapping over an old Gloria Estefan song). Thank you Paris Metro.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

So Euro

Erik and I are currently in England. Leeds to be exact. For the last five weeks we have been traveling through Europe. In those five weeks I've noticed a visual trend in my European peers. A peculiar visual genre or look. A cross between Emo and Metro. Something I'd like to call 'Euro.'

Here are three main characteristics of the 'Euro' trend. The keystone pieces of the Euro culture.

1. The Euro Scarf.
Throughout history few men have successfully donned the commonly feminine winter-ware known as the scarf.

Steven Tyler
(Rock god), Snoopy (a beagle), and maybe Luke Skywalker (from the beginning of 'Empire Strikes Back') are in a rare class of male scarf advocates. A dedicated few who live by their own rules and rock the demasculine neck sleeve (though one could argue Luke Skywalker should be exempt because a). he's from another galaxy and b.) he's a bit of a whiny queen throughout the whole Star Wars saga).
For the rest of the male population, scarves have always been a no-go, like easy bake ovens...and jellies.
Or so I thought.


Europeans embrace the scarf. Like tea and techno, they can't have enough scarves. Winter scarves, summer scarves, Barmitzvah scarves, you name it, they'll wear a scarf to it.
However, unlike a regular scarf, the Euro Scarf is popular with both the female and male population.

2. The Euro Mullet.
All trends fade, but only a few completely die. The mullet should be one of the latter.
After David Bowie introduced us to Ziggy Stardust and 'Labyrinth' humanity was lulled into a mullet frenzy. Everyone and their children had mullets (yes, I too was once a five year old sporting the latest mullett fashion..thanks mom and dad). It wasn't until the early 90's when Billy Ray Cyrus's Achy Breaky Heart convinced us how 'uncool' mullets actually were.

No one thought the mullet would make a comeback. But thanks to Euro technology, it's back and longer than ever. There are two new models. The first mullet is a sleeker, more airstreamed design. Hair dye is commonly used to destract the eyes, but don't be fooled....it's still a mullet.

The second is a by-product of the faux-hawk...a by-product of the mohawk. After the slow demise of the faux-hawk, some Europeans let their hawks grow wider and wider until suddenly it transformed into a neo-mullet.

Thankfully, these new mullets have yet to make their trip overseas. Hopefully, if we work together we can keep this trend to the 80's and gun shows.

3. The V-Neck.
What once was thought of as a clothing item saved for clevage and sailors, V-necks are now attracting a larger audience. They are the staple of any Euro style.Vintage band v-necks are regarded especially high in most Euro circles. Nothing says "I'm hardcore" like a pale skinny white guy wearing tight pants and a Wu-Tang v-neck shirt...highlighting an erratic patch of chest hair.

Euro Scarves are a usual companion to any v-neck tshirt. Further proof that style is decided not by weather or comon sense, but by d-bags like this:


Like the Euro Scarf and the Neo-Mullet, V-Neck's are cornerstone to current Euro style, and should be regarded as strictly European. So, let's keep our shirts high and our necks cold or someday our children will be asking us why they look like Captain Planet in their 2nd grade class photos...and no one deserves that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Seventh Inning Stretch

We’ve made it through Asia (Southeast and Original flavor), India (spicy Asia), and most of mainland Europe. We left Paris yesterday morning, arriving in Ireland for our final 12 day trek through the United Kingdom. The end is near.

People like to talk about how expensive Europe is. Before leaving on this trip the most common phrase I heard was, “oh, you’re spending 6 weeks in Europe? Do you know how expensive that is?” Even people that I’m pretty sure have never been to Europe seem to know how much it costs. It’s like there was a class everyone took in college about the fiscal demands of European travel. I must have skipped that one.

Europe isn’t expensive. Paris is expensive. If Europe is a 3-series BMW, Paris is a Leer Jet. Seriously.

On our arrival, I bought my first cup of coffee costing north of 5 euros (about $7.50). Holy crap. And it didn’t even come with a prize or anything.

Our first day in Paris (and Sarah’s last day) began rainy and cold, but later turned out sunny…and still cold. We hit all the major Paris postcard locations….the Arc de Triumph, Champs De Elyssee, Notre Dame, some whole in the wall bookshop (that was all in English!), and ended the day on the Eiffel Tower at sunset. We also went to the Musee D’Orsay in the afternoon; an impressionism museum with a lot of Monet’s, Van Gogh’s, Renoir’s, etc. It was pretty impressive. They had a cool display of Picasso paintings interpreting a famous Manet.

Okay enough art. Tara arrived the first night and Sarah left the next morning. We spent the next two days exploring the rest of Paris. We spent a morning in the Louve (with Tara’s art history tour), an afternoon in a famous graveyard, we saw another cathedral (that I can’t pronounce), and found some good food for less than the rest of Paris.

Getting out of Paris was a bit tougher than getting in. After a two hour trip from the hotel to the airport at 6am, we took a discount airline into Dublin. Probably the roughest flight we’ve taken yet. Before landing I felt like I was on a ride at Carrowinds. I’ve never had to brace myself with the armrests until yesterday. A guy my age began losing his breakfast all over the floor two seats in front of me (apparently RyanAir doesn’t shell out the extra 10 cents for throw up bags). Our landing felt like sledding over a rockslide. It was awesome. Landing planes must be unusual for RyanAir because as soon as we stopped everyone began clapping. Interesting. Glad I didn’t get to see what they do when the plane doesn’t land.

Well now we are in Dublin, Ireland and I freakin love it. It’s cold and windy, but we are going to visit the Guinness brewery and eat some good food (that doesn’t cost my soul or first born). Dublin reminds me of Rochester…if Rochester had sweet Irish accents. We went to our first true Irish pub last night. Oh, and here’s a fun fact. Everyone in Europe seems to really love the Kid Rock song that rips off Sweet Home Alabama and Werewolves of London. Besides Oasis, it was the only song sung at the top of every ones lungs at about 2 am in the bar. WTF…Kid Rock? I guess I have yet to get a handle on the European taste in pop music.

We fly back on November 1st. 12 more days until we successfully make it around the world. Now, its time to get off the internet and enjoy Ireland, England, and Scotland. Cheers.

One last thing. For the last few months we have been honing our skills at the ‘Action Shot.’ I think we have finally perfected the technique. I’d like to call this series “Face Kick: Paris

Enjoy.


Face Kick: Under the Eiffel Tower


Face Kick: Louve


Arc de Face Kick


Face Kick: At Night


Saturday, October 11, 2008

When in Rome

So we arrived in Pisa and stayed at a nice bed and breakfast. The place had a guitar! It was amazing. we stayed in that night and just played guitar. We hadn't played any music since being in a bamboo hut in Thailand. We started to write a song and talked about playing out again when we got home- "chasing steve" is back. you might want to reserve tickets in advance. Anyway, Pisa has this big tower and it leans. That, about it.

Rome was crazy. Everything there is historical. We walked all day long and around every corner there was some famous church or monument, or tower, or basilica. you name it. We saw all the big stuff- the coloseum and the ruins of ancient rome, the vatican, Treve fountain, Spanish steps, the Pantheon. It was all very cool. The Basilca della Santo Pedro (St. Peter's Basilica for those of you who don't parle italiano) was the most amazing thing. The size of it alone was humbling- as crowded as it was you could find yourself feeling alone in the huge space. Then we went up to the top of the basilica and saw an amazing view of the city.

I could go on and on about St. Peter's alone, not to mention the rest of Rome, but I won't. There are some highlights though. For one, Nick's cousin Sarah and his sister Angela (not to be confused with his other sister) met us here. It was nice to travel with other people again. Especially people who hadn't been worn out from travelling for two and half months. It was refreshing to see how amazed they were at all the sights. I'm afraid the power of some of the things me and Nick have seen has been slightly lost simply because of the amount of amazing things. Toward the end of our trip we are so "efficient" at seeing sights that sometimes we don't let them really sink in... so it is really nice having Angela and Sarah here to remind us.

Second highlight- "the path of illumination." I picked up a copy of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons in Cinque Terre- I had read the book before but forgot what it was about, picking it out simply because the only books in English at the store were that and some Nicholas Sparks garbage. For those of you not familiar with the book, it follows Robert Langdon and a beautiful Italian scientist as they decipher the labyrinthine trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome to the long forgotten Illuminati lair- a secret refuge wherein lies the only hope for the Vatican! (i know that was some amazing diction, but i copied it from the back of the book.) Anyway, we followed the path of illumination to the illuminati lair- nobody answered when we knocked. the book provided some fun facts about the city (fact or fiction) and higlighted some of its less known sites.

Third highlight- actually more of a dissapointment for me. but at the same time it made me realize how lucky I am! Sarah has never seen the movie "GLADIATOR." We took a guided tour of the coloseum- full of references to the famous film that everyone in the group was totally on top of. Except for Sarah. In some way I feel she shouldn't have been allowed in the ruins. But she flew below the radar and didn't admit her lameness until later that night. I know I'm overreacting, but at the same time... COME ON! (By the way, she hasn't seen "Saving Private Ryan," "The Godfather," "Indiana Jones," or "Rocky")

All in all, Rome was too amazing to really describe in full. The best city for me so far on this trip. Now we are in Florence- home of Michalengelo's "David," Da Vinci's "Last Supper" and really cheap wine! I just hope I remember the art.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Eastside and Italy (a very small country)

We left Germany refreshed. A package had arrived from home with our new bank cards (lost is Laos, seems like forever ago), halloween candy, and some winter clothes- we asked for about 6 articles between the two of us and recieved 15. We had to buy another bag to carry it all. Oh well, our moms love us.



So off to the near east, Prague. Neither of us knew much about Prague before going there. We had heard that it was the true "old Europe" or where the "East meets the West." Whatever it was, "old" was definitely a good way to describe it. The architecture was unbelievable. There were times, especially at night, you felt that you had gone back in time- exploring the narrow streets of the old town. That is until you passed a shop selling pieces of "crystal" with your picture engraved in it and hearing the sounds of "I kissed a girl and I liked it." For me, Prague was a little bitter sweet becuase of all the touristy ridiculousness. They had a ton of those little egg-shaped dolls that have the exact same doll inside it- very Russian, pretty cool. But then the next shop had even more dolls but they had the faces of Ronaldinho and Pavel Nedved. (famous soccer players, for the uneducated). Escaping these saturated areas and finding yourself lost in narrow, ancient streets was a much better Prague experience for me.



Next stop, Vienna. Vienna was a lot like Prague but much more extravagant. It was like a really rich Prague. Prague had a castle, but Vienna had Palaces. Apparently Vienna was the center of one of the largest empires in history- the Hapsburgs? I don't know, you check the history yourself. The only part I remember from all the signs I read (yes Dad I read the signs) was that they made a huge deal out of the last empress, Sisi. They claimed she was so beautiful and so kind and it was such a tragedy that she died. I can't personally reflect on Sisi's character but I can say that judging by the pictures of her, she wasn't anything special. At least not the most beautiful empress ever. The Viennians (?) may not have beautiful women, but the city they built was absolutely amazing. And it wasn't swarming with tourists and t-shirt shops, another plus for me.

On our second day in Vienna I had what you could call a "quarter-life crises." That is all the details you need to know. But I decided I wanted to go skiing in the Alps and that I wanted to go alone. So we parted ways- I headed west and Nick went south towards Venice. We decided we would meet in Rome on the 10th.

So I skied on the Hintertuxer Glacier- Austria's one and only year-round ski facility. The skiing wasn't bad. Not that many trails were open, but I didn't expect much- I was skiing in October. The day I left I woke up to the first snowfall of the season. It was about 6 inches high and by the time I walked to the bus station it was about 8 inches. It was coming down fast. After a day of travelling, the next morning I arrived in Cinque Terre Italy. This is an amazing place on the west coast of Italy that consists of 5 small towns built right along the cliffs to the sea. Probably one of the most romantic places on Earth! Too bad I was alone- that would soon change though... There are hiking trails between each of the towns, and the trails have some amazing views as they cling to the cliffs as well. It was on one of these trails that some strange fate distrupted my loneliness. As I was coming down the trail to the third town I turned a narrow corner and stood face to face with Nick. It was really weird. Of all the places in Europe, in Italy! It was hilarious. Niether of us really knew how to react or whether or not we were dreaming. Anyway, we are back together again. Today we leave for Pisa and then to Rome.

Monday, October 6, 2008

sprechen Sie Englisch?

I apologize if some of you were dissapointed with Nick's last post- explaining his problems with post cards. I just read it and feel like I need to do some updating on where we are.

We arrived in Germany with no problems. And we soon learned the harsh reality of the western world... everything is expensive. We took a train from Frankfurt to Bielefeld for about 150 US dollars. ouch. Luckily we got to stay with my childhood friend Matt. Matt is playing professional soccer at Bundisliga side Arminia Bielefeld. Not bad. His apartment was very nice and we took full advantage of it. We played a lot of playstation, did laundry, watched movies, slept in, and ate meals that actaully satisfied our appetites. We also bought some new clothes- we weren't at all prepared for the 50 degree climate change from India to Germany. Basically we recharged our batteries and planned out the next and last phase of our journey.

Bielefeld was a really cool town. But in about half a day we had seen all there was to it. This wasn't at all dissapointing to us as the point of staying there was to relax and prepare for the rest of the trip. For the touristy stuff we went to Berlin. Matt hooked us up with his Mom's friend Jim who lives in Berlin. Jim's penthouse apartment downtown was amazing. Jim's hospitality plus his partner Frank's travel stories definitely enhanced our Berlin experience. They let us borrow thier bikes for the day so we could get around the city. Probably the coolest thing about Berlin is how new it is. During the war it was practically reduced to rubble by the allies (YEAH!), and once the Berlin wall came down and the city was completely capitalist (HELL YEAH!) it was open season for all the best architechs in the world to create anything they could imagine. And they did. There are some amazing buildings all over the city. There are still glimpses of Berlin's crazy history around the city. For instance, in the middle of the biggest shopping district a church was left standing as a memorial to the war. Only half the church was actually standing as the rest of it had been destroyed, as the evidence is still very clear. Parts of the Berlin wall are still standing, as well as the original "Checkpoint Charlie" the gate between east and west in the american sector.

It was all cool stuff. The best part of Germany was probably the wieght i was finally able to gain back after our journey through Asia. And not having to haggle with someone any time you want to buy something! It has been a good change of pace. Stay tuned for stories from Prague, Austria, and Italian miracles.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Postcards: A Memoir

I don't write a lot of postcards. Probably less than five in my whole life. Since the invention of email (and since I never really took trips worthy of sending postcards) I see postcards as a dying art, like latin, or talking in person.

This trip has prompted me to write a few postcards (well, at least buy a few, keep them in my journal...and eventually realize it's pointless to send a Vietnam card from Italy). So far I've successfully mailed two.

I'd like to share my thoughts on the enigmatic postcard.

First, the process of postcards is too slow. No one receives a postcard in the time that would make any of the information on them relevant. For instance, I've received postcards from people who already returned and already told me about their trip...now all the info on their card is a little redundant. I have theory that all post offices have a separate room for postcards. They wait for a particularly slow day (or the second coming) and mail them all at once....that is IF the postcard even makes it out of the post office. Which brings me to my second point...

There is a lack of privacy. I write a message on the back of an eye-catching, flamboyant photo. Postcards are the Liberace of mail. You can't tell me that with the sea of bland, white mail flowing through the networks, postmen don't take a sneak peak at my trip to the Prague Castle. Now every postman knows how I miss my family and I havent done laundry in two weeks.
Awesome.

Postcards also seem kind of artificial. For example, in Germany I saw a postcard of a mountain goat standing at the edge of a cliff. Now, I didn't take the photo of the goat on the edge of the mountain, nor did I even see said goat...or any goats for that matter. And in all honesty, my experiences in Germany were not as majestic as an image of a suicidal goat on a somber edge. I just don't understand. Would you send your parents stock photos of children playing in a ball crawl just because your kid had his 5th birthday at Chuck-e-Cheese? Hopefully not.

I feel like a conversation with someone who receives a postcard from me would go like this:
Them: Wow, thanks for the postcard Nick. Did monks often cross cryptic lagoons on hollowed-out tortise shells?
Me: Well, uh, I never actually saw that. But I did buy a sweet Buddha tshirt.
Them: Oh, well...the message was nice.

And they slowly move the card from the fridge towards the garbage while I slowly feel like a loser.
I think this is why I also have a hard time finding birthday cards. No matter how funny or endearing, I didn't write it.
I came up with: "Have a great year! from Nick"...that was mine.

Postcards also seem a bit flashy. How great is your accountant friend going to feel when he reads about your Moroccan love cruise while he's filing account management reports in a cube the size of your 1st class cabin bed. That's like sending a birthday card to someone else on your birthday. It just doesn't seem right.

Now I don't hate postcards. I think my biggest problem, and the reason for this post, is that they confuse me. Have you ever written a postcard? It's hard. So much thinking goes into such a little space.
What do you write about, I only have five square inches and god help me, a thick pen! Should I talk about the photo? Unfortunately, I didn't take the photo and the caption on the back is pretty self explanitory. Should I tell them about the trip? Well, I emailed them Tuesday and not much has really happened in two days. I can't ask any questions because they would be pointless, unless they postcarded me back (which is an intriguing idea). Even if they emailed their responses they won't get the card for at least 3 weeks or so, so any questions would need to have a 3 week relevancy, in which case it might be too deep a topic to go on a postcard. I wish postcards came with an etiquette book...well, maybe just a pamphlet.

I guess overall, there is just the simple joy in receiving a postcard. No matter how distressing or perplexing the entire process may have been, it is nice to know someone thought about you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Return of Jafar

video

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thailand to India

Sonu, our Agra rickshaw driver and tour guide

Thieving Indian monkeys

Hood cows

Taj mofo.

Rooftop of hotel in Parahganj, India

Dune jumping

Ha Long Bay

Sweet hats.

Swinging into the Namsong (Laos)

The British Four

Sunset over the Namsong 1

Rambo 5

Mowgli (our trek guide)

Bracelets before the swarm

Our Alaskan friends in Ayutthaya

Buddhist ruins

Royal Palace in Bangkok

In front of our hotel in Delhi, India

Dune surfing in Hoi An, Vietnam

Not a marathon, just rush hour (Hanoi, Vietnam)

Lady Justice (Hoi An, Vietnam)

Charlie in Hanoi.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

crooked teeth

We made it to India with no problems.  And surprisingly we made it out of India with no problems.  Out of all the places we've seen on this trip India has been the most intimidating place.  I know that this has a lot to do with our choice in lodging as budget travelers, as we stayed in probably the most poor neighborhood in Delhi, Paharganj.  We spent our time in this neighborhood dodging tons of people, beggars, cows, cow poop, dogs and motorcycles.  It really was disturbingly fascinating.  When you first see the streets I got this sense of compassion and sadness that people live like that.  But then when I had been immerse in it I became numb to it.  It becomes habit to just ignore the begging children and persistent sales men.  We even witnessed a terrorist bomb that went off a few blocks from where we were staying.  We were hanging out on top of the roof and heard what sounded like a cannon going off.  It was loud and piercing but didn't really distract us as the entire city is loud.  It just seemed like another weird sound coming from the streets below us.  It wasn't until later that we learned from somebody on the street that it was a bombing.  5 bombs went off that day- all in public areas.  As horrible as India seemed it was actually really cool.  I guess on the surface it was intimidating and unwelcoming, but we had a lot of amazing experiences in our short time there.  Maybe we just got lucky, but if you get below the surface it can be very enjoyable.  For instance, most of the people were rude and money-hungry, but we found a few guys who were really genuine when we least expected it.  When we were on a train to Agra this random older gentleman with his family started talking to us.  At some point in the conversation he decided we were like family to him and he called his buddy who managed a local hotel to give us a good room at a cheap price.  Now, everybody in India has a "good room" at a "cheap price" but for some reason we actually listened to this guy and trusted him and everything worked out great.  The city was kind of the same way- if you looked hard enough you could see really cool and beautiful places.  The obvious example is the Taj Mahal.  But what you don't see in the pictures is the town and streets leading to it.  You walk through a filthy town, down some alley where you pay a guy 750 rupee.  Suddenly you're looking at one of the most beautiful buildings, or sites rather, in the world.  30 seconds ago I was stepping over cow poop, dodging motorcycles and trying to explain to a homeless kid that I had no money for him, now I'm looking at the Taj Mahal!  I'd say that sums up the India experience for me.  It was probably one of the most memorable places we've seen so far... still a ways to go though.

I know that this all probably seems a little like a sob story, but it's not.  We had a great time in India.  Just sometimes it's not like being on vacation all the time but just as amazing and refreshing.  For more on India you can email my new friend Gajendra Verma, who after befriending us on train now wants me to help expand his health clinic in America!  I knew he was up to something.  Stay tuned for stories from Germany.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fun Facts: SE Asia

ABBA CADABRA

Vietnam loves ABBA. Read that again. ABBA, "Dancing Queen" ABBA. In a land untouched by the spreading rash of McDonalds and Starbucks,* ABBA lives, nay, ABBA thrives.

While searching a 3 story bookstore for an English travel guidebook, the only English book Erik and I found was the collective ABBA biography...and they had it in 5 other languages (well 6, but the Vietnamese version was sold out). After this curious discovery, and the two ABBA songs we heard on our 30 minute cab ride from the airport, I asked our friend about ABBA.
"Oh yeah" he said
"They love ABBA...but no one really knows why."

And I'm not talking love, like the way we love Journey in the US. This isn't a "Journey rocks cause I'm drunk and can scream the lyrics to 'Don't Stop Believin' at the top of my lungs!" No, this is a true, pure artistic acceptance of the disco quartet that is ABBA. Apparently, at every club in Hanoi at midnight they play "Winner Takes it All." Now that's devotion (also, if you want to argue that Journey is always a great band, not just after 8 Heinikens, see my side note below).

So, I guess they were wrong. Disco never died, it just moved to Vietnam.


*Side note: We did see one fast food restaurant, KFC, in Hanoi...which I found especially ironic since (to me) KFC is the epitome of American Southern tradition, like Nascar, Journey, and American flag sweatpants.

Lost in Transportation

Erik and I have been in Vietnam for 8 days today. Tomorrow will be one month since we flew from Singapore into Thailand. Which also means tomorrow is our 45th day travelling. The halfway point to being broke in 90 days (distant cheers across the stadium).

Vietnam has been intriguing. The people are unique, they are very different from the people in Thailand and Laos. Which seems strange since they all are so close to each other. Luckily, a friend of mine lives in Haoi and was cool enough to show us where to go and what to see. He also speaks Vietnamese, so that was a plus (especially while trying to learn card games from two Vietnamese girls...if you're reading this, Thanks Daniel and good luck trying to figure out that one card game).

When I look back at this week or so, I think of buses. Many buses. The 5 hour bus to Ha Long Bay (which was beautiful...huge limestone mountain islands scattered across the ocean like chess pieces), the 15 hour bus to Hoi An (quaint town, reminded me of what I imagine Cuba to be like), and the 17 hour ride on a city bus to Mui Ne (where it has not stopped raining). Tomorrow we get on a bus for 4.5 hours to Saigon and then a 2 hour flight tomorrow night to Bangkok...so we can make our flight Saturday to India.

I'm starting to feel like I am lost in the transportation. Even on our 2-3 day breaks between each bus trip, it has been hard to relax. The rain has been more-or-less consistant, but I guess that's what makes this an adventure and not a vaction. Sunday morning we will arrive in India. South East Asia has been amazing, but we are ready to move on.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Charlie here we come



Tomorrow we fly to Vietnam. We had to leave our new found British friends behind yesterday. They will continue to drink themselves stupid in Laos and Thailand. To them this trip is like spring break for us... so imagine a bunch of drunk dudes in Daytona but you can't understand what they say- even though they're speaking your language. They were a good time though and we hope we can see them again.


<-- View from our Guest House balcony


The Namsong River was a great time. Even though it took all my money from me, my driver's license, my cross, and some of my dignity, I would recommend it to any other travellers I see. The first day on the river we went tubing. Tubing is like bar hoping but instead of walking to the next bar, you float on a tractor tube. After a small Laotian child ropes you into the bar you can enjoy many activities such as: zip line (see video), rope swing, volleyball, mud soccer, dancing, and drinking! It really was a good time. I hope some Lao dude finds my $100 and buys himself a nice herd of cattle and maybe a wife included.




We kayaked the day after tubing. One of the stops on our kayaking trip was at an underwater cave. We had to swim under rocks and surface on the inside of a cave with about 2 or 3 feet of space above us. It was really freaky- the guide didn't allow us to go too far because the cave could have filled with water at any moment and trapped us! We had head lamps on to see in the dark, but we could never see the end of the cave- the light just faded into darkness. We were hoping for some serious rapids on the kayaks but found none. There was a section that dominated all other kayaks, but we're proud to say that team America stayed afloat. It wasn't until the end of our journey that the (jealous) Brits boarded our kayak and successfully capsized our vessel. We shrugged that off and reminded them of how much they owe us for WWII. So later that night they gave Nick a t-shirt... I guess we're even.




Our last adventure on the Namsong was at a river bar. Seems pretty typical and not really adventurous, but this bar was different. People were dancing, some were raving, and some were dancing with fire! These people brought there own fire torches on chains and fuel and just started dancing among everyone else. It was hilarious.




So, off to Vietnam. Enjoy the pictures and video.

Nick vs. Zipline

video

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Things we lost to the Namsong

We are in Laos right now. We spent the last two days kayaking and tubing down the Namsong river with some friends we met trekking.

Right now though, I'd like to list the things we lost in the Namsong.

1. My sandal (singular). If you happen to see a drunk guy with one black sandal...its probably mine.
2. Our bank cards (luckily, we have backups)
3. Kip (Laos money)
3. 2 Wallets (containing said bank cards and kip)
4. My t-shirt (still wondering how this happened...it was my green water guardian shirt...I loved that shirt
5. My necklace (sorry mom)
6. Some dignity

If you happen to see any of these items floating around the Indian and South China sea, let us know. We'll be happy to reward you with a lot of wet kip.

Jungle Trekking: Day 3

The Final Countdown

We woke up early again. Our guide, Mowgli (who took a liking to one of our British friends) took us through the final mountain trails. We walked for two hours or so until we reached the river.
There were three bamboo rafts (like actual bamboo raft- tied together with bamboo) each about 25ft. long. With four people on a raft, two of us were given a long bamboo pole to paddle with.

We owned that river.

I took a couple bushes to the face and a nice fat tree limb to the shin, but other than that, we were warriors. We were cutting corners and dodging overturned rafters. I think a couple of the Thai locals mistook us for natives (skadoosh).

After the rafting we rode back to Chiang Mai. By far the most adventurous three days we've conquered on this trip.

Jungle Trekking: Day 2

We woke up early. Grabbed our stuff and headed out by 8:45.

We trekked through the mountains for a good 3 hours, weaving in and out of mountains and around rivers. Around lunch time we came through the clearing to a small hut. Our guide cooked us rice and something he picked up along the way (whatever, we were tired and it tasted like food).
Everyone made their way to the waterfall around the backside of the valley. We took showers while trying to find the best place to jump down the falls.

After lunch we headed out into the jungle. One after another we pioneered new territory (actually there was a bit of a path). We were in raptor country (Im pretty sure at one point everyone started humming the theme to Jurassic Park). At one point we were knee deep in a river trying to follow the elephants to the nearest village camp.

Later in the afternoon we caught up with the elephants. Three in a row we rode elephants through the jungle (it was like riding a mechanical bull...that could kill you). Our elephants name was Mirama...we called her Susan. She liked to throw dirt and trees at me. Apparently she liked us.

We spent our second night in a rice farming village on the country side. All our food was made from things picked up along our trip. It's amazing what you can make from bushes and rice.
By midnight we were all spent and crashed early.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Jungle Trekking: Day 1

Welcome to the Jungle

Currently we are in Vang Vien Laos (took a bus, a van, and another bus 28 hours to get here. Ask me what sleeping sitting up on a bus with bad shocks over mud roads feels like....hint: bang your head against a window for a few hours, you'll get the picture). We just returned from a three day trek through the jungle near the border of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Since these past few days were much more exciting than the days leading to it, I'll begin our story here...

We left for our jungle adventure Saturday morning. We rode to the first village in a tuk tuk...its like an f-150 pickup with bench seats along the bed. I'm pretty sure we broke some Thai record for fitting people in a tuk tuk. We had 4 Italians, 6 Brits, a Sri Lankin, and us. On top of that (literally, he rode on the roof of the truck...wtf?) our guide (who I will mention in detail later) a driver and another guide in the passenger seat. Sixteen. Sixteen people in a truck that couldn't tow a skier.


Our guide: As advertised, our guide was apparently "english speaking," in reality he knew English as well as I can play Halo (I don't play Halo). He communicated by making a range of shrill shreiks and growls while pointing at various objects along the way. It was by far the longest game of charades I've ever played.

We named him Mowgli. He was our leader.


We arrived a few hours later in a small village on top of a mountain. As soon as we arrived a couple little children walked up to us, trying to sell hand woven bracelets. As soon as the first person bought a bracelet a stampede of little thais swarmed around us. Wrist bands were being wrapped around our arms like sleeves and they were demanding "10 Baht!" each. Eventually every one purchased at least two wrist bands at said price (trust me, these little guys are tough negotiators). I got a cool purple wrist band and a big green and pink wrist band (we couldn't choose the color) now we can rock. We we're also given bamboo spears (or at least that's what I thought mine was) for hiking (and spearing killer pandas) and rubber hiking shoes.


We left the village and walked through rice farms and forest area. Our first day was pretty short. We arrived at another village only an hour and a half from the beginning of the trek. All the village people were very friendly. They challenged us to a game of 'football.' Though the only part that actually resembled soccer was the ball.

We played in a big mud pit. Our goals were two sticks jammed into the ground at either end of the field. Needless to say, it wasn't ideal playing condition. Consequently, we got stomped.

Erik was pwning the village people like punk rock did in the 80s. I think now our English friends have a different view of American soccer players...or at least one player. By mid-game he was being called Landon Donovan.

I spent most of the time knocking people over. I don't know if it was all 'legal,' but these guys were scrappy. They bounced off us and just kept going. It was pretty friggin cool.


We spent that night in one of many bamboo huts we would eventually become familiar with. Everything was bamboo. The floor and walls were woven bamboo, the ceiling was bamboo poles, even our cups were bamboo. The village people cooked for us and we spent the rest of the night hanging out in the huts. Someone had a guitar and we eventually took over and brought Chasing Steve back in Thailand.

Interesting aside: Thai villagers love the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I probably heard Californication played 8 times on the guitar that night. Hilarious.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Land of Thai

greetings from Thailand. We got to Bangkok in the evening and found a pretty cool guesthouse- the owner was Australian so we could actually understand him. The first night we left the guesthouse to get some food we walked out straight in to the path of an elephant! Now Bangkok reminds me a lot any dirty American city you can imagine, say Baltimore. So imagine an elephant walking down the street in Baltimore. It was awesome. At the same time though, Bangkok is like any American city, just dirtier. So we quickly got tired of it. The people are so friendly, especially the ones who are trying to rip you off.

Now we're in a town called Ayuthaya, a few hours north of Bangkok by train. There are temple ruins all over the place here. Also, probably the coolest thing yet, we got to play with baby elephants! We found this thing called an "elephant kraal" pretty far out of town. It's basically an elephant farm- some of the elephants work on the farm and some give elephant rides during the day. The babies are completely free to roam and are extremely affectionate.

We leave for Chang Mai this evening. This town is in the northern territory of Thailand. Here we plan to trek through the jungle- hopefully on the backs of elephants. We'll keep you posted. Much love.

Babar and Friends

video
We played with elephants today. This particular elephant, I'll call him Tyrone, had a fascination with Erik's leg. He also liked to eat rocks.
Sadly, I don't think Tyrone will be making any great evolutionary leaps for the elephant race.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fun Facts: HK and Singapore (continued)

4. Gum is illegal in Singapore-
Imagine following a shady character to a back alley at 2 am in Singapore. The air is humid and smells of old Indian food. The shady character cautiously looks around before he slowly opens his trench coat, unveiling a multitude of chewable freshness. He asks you, "winterfresh or cinnamon?...$20SIN" You ferociously scratch your neck and bite your lip as you decide over wrigleys or trident. Suddenly red and blue lights illuminate the alley. Your gum dealer takes off. You are now face to face with the chewing gum enforcement...
Welcome to Singapore.

So yeah, I made that story up. But chewing gum IS actually illegal in Singapore. Consequently, Tic Tac sales are through the roof!

3. Jackie Chan runs Hong Kong-
Jackie Chan is a bad mofo. I will be the first to agree. Who hasn't seen First Strike, where Jackie Chan beats on a bad guy through a ladder?! If that doesn't warrant Kung Fu medal, then I think we have all failed as a human race.
Hong Kong certainly agrees that Jackie Chan deserves extra recognition. Drive in any direction for three blocks and I guarantee you will see Jackie Chan endorsing half of the goods China has to offer. Jackie Chan is his own logo

Example:
Hong Kong Happy Mattress Company- "How can we sell more mattresses?"
New guy- "What if we add Jackie Chan to our ad?"
HKHM Co. President- "Brilliant!"
Two weeks later an add for Happy Mattress Co. includes a nice feather double with Jackie Chan Karate chopping the box spring. Sales boom.

Example 2:
Suit customer at a tailor shop- "Why should I buy your suits?"
Tailor- "Because Jackie Chan is awesome."
Customer immediately proceeds to buy 7 suits and a dress.

The moral of Hong Kong is, Hong Kong is cool simply because Jackie Chan said so.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fun Facts: Hong Kong and Singapore

1. 7-Eleven-
There is a surplus of 7-Elevens in Hong Kong and Singapore. Have you ever walk down your street craving a doughnut or $2 sunglasses and wondered "where are all the 7-elevens?" I have found your answer. Hong Kong is a breeding ground for 7-Elevens. A nest if you will. Every street corner, insides of malls, I didn't go swimming...but I wouldn't be surprised if there was an underwater 7-eleven in the harbor. At one point I stood in a 7-eleven at a mall and looked into another 7-eleven ten yards away. I thought it was an illusion.
Some of you may say "but Nick, don't complain. Who wouldn't love an endless supply of slushies?" Good point, an endless supply of slushies sounds utopian, however, in Hong Kong and Singapore 7-11 is not sinonomous with slushie. Nay, these are slushie-less 7-11's. You have to go to a Coozy's to get a slushie!
Did that not just blow your mind?

2. Umbrellas-
Like 7-11's are to Hong Kong architecture, umbrellas are to the latest in Hong Kong fashion. Umbrellas are the Swiss army knife of hong kong. They're like zip-off pants. There's no season or forecast that doesn't require an umbrella. Rain (understandable), shine (hmm), typhoon, sunset, night, subway tunnel, etc.
7-11 umbrellas are the most popular...and they're always open as well (pun).
The problem with umbrellas is in their vertical placement. Most women in Hong Kong carry an umbrella. Most women in Hong Kong are also under 5ft.6. This places the pointy ends of the umbrella directly eye-level with a 5ft9-10 person, such as myself. You quickly learn new upper body swivels to dodge said pointy ends. Think of one of those punching bags for kids that always bounce back, that's what what walking down the sidewalk in Hong Kong looks like.

3. More to come later...

The southern most point of continental Asia!

Sounds really exciting huh? Well the truth is there's not much to do in Singapore. We've spent two days here now and hit all the major attractions. If you walk downtown you can go see this statue of a "merlion" - that's half lion, half fish. The merlion is like the symbol of there entire country. Today we went to this island off Singapore called Sentosa, which is really still part of Singapore. They have some really nice beaches and resorts. Everything looked so tropical until you looked out to see and saw nothing but huge tanker ships in port. it kind of took away from the tropical feeling. I guess that is how most of Singapore feels- almost cool. The city is really nice and clean, but there isn't really anything to do. And it's kind of expensive. The nicest part about this place is our hostel. They have a really cool lounge area, with a bar and fuss ball and stuff. There are lots of people around- it's nice to be able to talk to other people every now and then. Anyway, we're currently looking for the first jet out of here to Bangkok. Stay tuned for more stories from the orient.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Leaving Clown Town

Tomorrow we leave Hong Kong for Singapore. Hong Kong has been interesting- if I could use one word to describe our experience here it would be "crowded." Even when we tried to leave the main part of the city we found everything to look exactly the same with the same amounts of people. It has definitely been an experience, but I think me and Nick are both ready to move on. The city can get overwhelming after a week. The coolest part for me was Lantau Peak- the only place we found not swarming with billions of Asians. On top of that we saw some sweet temples, markets (selling anything you could imagine-seriously), and a spectacular view of one of the most amazing cities in the world. It has been awesome, stressful, and then relaxing. We saw some pandas today so I feel it is safe to say we have had the full Chinese experience. Now, on to Singapore.

Hong Kong in Photos















Ngong Ping below the Big Buddha
















Supporting your Local Rockstar in Hong Kong
















Erik took this sweet shot of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon at the Sky Terrace
















Kung Fu Pandas

Monday, August 4, 2008

Welcome to Hong Kong


Well, where to start.
Were on day three in Hong Kong. It's definitely been an experience. We still don't have our luggage from our first flight out of NC. So we've finally realized that it might not come and we're starting to buy clothes (since we've been wearing one pair of clothes since last wednesday).
Our first night we showed up in a hostel that was probably similar to a prison. Needless to say, we moved on quickly the next morning. Ha.

Aside from that headache...
Yesterday we toured around downtown Hong Kong and Kowloon. It reminds me of NYC, but with a lot more Asians. We spent the rest of yesterday and today on an island west of Hong Kong island. It's home to a buddist monastary. There is a very large statue of Buddah on top of this mountain, it's a bit of a tourist attraction, but really cool nontheless. We stayed at a hostel last night on the island. The place was really clean and looked out onto the Lantao mountains. After talking with the hostel owner, we were inspired to climb Lantao Peak, the highest mountain on the island.
So this morning we woke up and began our climb at 7am. It was amazing. We climbed above the cloud line. There were no trees, so we could see straight out across the ocean to the other islands of Hong Kong. I was hurting by the time I got to the top, but thanks to Erik pushing us further we reached the summit. By far the best thing we've experienced so far.














For the rest of the day, we've searched for hostels and food. Nothing too exciting there.
Welp, Im outta time on this computer.
Till next time.
-Nick and Erik

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Screw Airtran

So we made it to San Francisco safely and with no problems... except that our bag decided not to show. So we've been hanging out in San Francisco, which is absolutely awesome, but we can't fully enjoy ourselves knowing that our bag is not with us. If anybody out there knows anybody who works for Airtran, kick/punch them in the face for us... cause right now I can't even bitch them out over the phone because they don't answer! Besides the slight hang up with the only piece of luggage we have, everything is going awesome!!! spirits are high. Tomorrow we fly to Hong Kong, perhaps in the same clothes we've been wearing since Wednesday.

Erik out. Nick is out too.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gone Till November

Hey everybody. If I haven't talked to you in the past few months let me get you up to speed.
Starting tomorrow, July 30th, Erik and I are taking a trip around the world (that still sounds strange to say). We will be gone until the beginning of November.

Our Itinerary:
We are flying out of San Francisco Friday afternoon and arriving in Hong Kong Saturday afternoon. From there we will travel to Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Germany, Czech Rep., Slovakia, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland, France, England, and Scotland. We are flying back to the US on November 1st.

So you may be thinking, "Why a trip around the world?" or "You're 23, get a job" or "I wish the McRib would come back to McDonalds." Well let me explain.
I graduated a year ago and worked this past year as a graphic designer around Raleigh. After about a month working in a cubicle I decided I needed to do something crazy. I needed to take a trip. Since I never studied abroad in school and have never been overseas, I decided to take 3 months and go around the world. After a year and a lot of research, our trip was set.
As far as the McRib thing goes, I totally agree. I could definitely go for a McRib right now.

Now, since my laziness in making a listserve out weighs my distaste for blogging, I decided to create this travel blog. We will be updating this site throughout our trip, posting photos, videos, and possibly the occasional fund solicitation. Feel free to comment on anything or send us emails. We will both be checking our emails at internet cafes throughout our trip.
Well I guess that's about it. See you on the flipside.

In the meantime here's a video of my 15 yr old dog Champ. Enjoy.

video